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Gibson Guitars in Bluegrass


k-zoo sport

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I'm sure this has been discussed before and I've read some of the previous threads on this topic but I'm interested to know just how many folks out there play Gibson Guitars for outright Bluegrass?

 

I know Little Roy uses a Gibson Advanced Jumbo. I talked to him and he said that he loves them. He also said, "they give them to us" so I'm sure that's a factor!

 

On occasion I will play my grandfather's 1972 Gibson Blue Ridge Guitar--sounds pretty descent for some stuff but is mostly at home in Country-Blues rather than outright Bluegrass. I also nearly purchased a new Gibson J-29 (I had purchased an HD-28 a few hours previous or I would have likely bought that guitar!)

 

What do you guys think--how do Gibson Guitars sound in a Bluegrass mix?

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Most of Gibsons will probably sound pretty quiet compared to the average D-18 or D-28 with medium strings thrashed flat-out with a flatpick.

 

Tpbiii here has written extensively about the vintage AJ, which seems to be the Gibson best suited to compete in the average bluegrass jam. Sean Watkins plays (usually) a vintage J-45 in the progressive bluegrass (newgrass) group Nickel Creek, but that's a somewhat different setting and a different kettle of fish.

 

Most Gibsons just aren't the "boomers" you need to have in traditional bluegrass, where your guitar may have to fight its way to the surface through the fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and other guitars.

 

The Blue Ridge has a laminated rosewood body, and by 1972 it had the double-X braced top that tended to choke top vibration a bit, so it probably wouldn't mix to well with most Martin Dreads. It's possible that one of the early (mid 1960's) solid rosewood Gibson Heritage models could be a better bluegrass guitar. I have no first-hand experience with those, however.

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I talked about this recently in this thread.

 

It wandered off topic a bit the near the end. I also re-posted a version of that post in the blog http://vintageacousticinsruments.blogspot.com/

 

Traditional music, acoustic science and American vintage string instruments

Here is me playing one this Spring with Aina Jo Barnwell, Laura Oshaw, and Tony Watt at the 40 year old Armuchee Bluegrass Festival. That one is an old, much traveled 1935 Jumbo.

 

Armuchee2015a_zpscxkjhf9a.jpg

 

armuchee2015b_zpsf7gpecof.jpg

 

IMO, there are only a handful of vintage Gibsons (we have about 50) that work adequately for traditional "power" bluegrass. For lighter forms of bluegrass, of course, lots of other stuff will work.

 

While he was visiting, Tony Watt played a bunch of our guitars specifically to test them for bluegrass rhythm and bluegrass lead. Tony is a D-18 guy, and claims his bias proudly. Officially, he doesn't care for any Gibsons and he is not that crazy about D-28s. I was hoping to pull some rabbits out of a hat. From a Gibson perspective, that worked pretty well -- he ranked the old AJ and the 1943 RW SJ very high -- a surprise! He ranked both the 36 Trojan and my 35 Jumbo as "just old Gibsons." Personally that matches my own judgement for the J-35 but not for the Jumbo -- because of all the work that has been done on, it is sort of an outlier on tone, but it really appeals to me.

 

Here are all the guitar tests Tony did.

 

Let's pick,

 

-Tom

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Most of Gibsons will probably sound pretty quiet compared to the average D-18 or D-28 with medium strings thrashed flat-out with a flatpick.

 

Tpbiii here has written extensively about the vintage AJ, which seems to be the Gibson best suited to compete in the average bluegrass jam. Sean Watkins plays (usually) a vintage J-45 in the progressive bluegrass (newgrass) group Nickel Creek, but that's a somewhat different setting and a different kettle of fish.

 

Most Gibsons just aren't the "boomers" you need to have in traditional bluegrass, where your guitar may have to fight its way to the surface through the fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and other guitars.

 

The Blue Ridge has a laminated rosewood body, and by 1972 it had the double-X braced top that tended to choke top vibration a bit, so it probably wouldn't mix to well with most Martin Dreads. It's possible that one of the early (mid 1960's) solid rosewood Gibson Heritage models could be a better bluegrass guitar. I have no first-hand experience with those, however.

 

Hi Nick,

 

I was posting at the same time you were -- didn't mean to ignore you.

 

Best,

 

-Tom

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A handful of Gibson guitar models (AJ etc) or a handful of Gibson guitars period?

 

My statement is quite narrow. First, we are only into vintage guitars (pre 1965 for Gibsons) -- so I don't have experience on modern models. Also when I say "work for traditional bluegrass" I am talking about the rhythm role in a heavy acoustic session. I am not talking about flatpicking lead -- a power bluegrass band can bury any acoustic guitar in that role, so since modulation is required anyway, it just becomes a question of how much. But on rhythm, the intrinsic power of the other instruments -- banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bass -- demands both appropriate tone (roaring and midrange heavy) and power. Smaller guitars of any make don't have the power. Of our 50 Gibsons, only 12 are Js. Of those, I have only four that I think work acceptably well for bluegrass rhythm: the 35 RSRG, 36 AJ, 43 RW SJ and the (modified) 35 Jumbo. All the other fail either on power (everything newer than 1937 except the 43 RW SJ) or tone.

 

I should add most of our guitars were acquired more than a decade ago -- many long before that. But all of the "bluegrass" Gibsons were acquire in the last ten years, starting with the old AJ. So this was all done by design and not "easy" because they are all rare guitars.

 

We really love the tone of Banner J-45s and SJs, and I tried really hard for years to make that work bluegrass (as well as all the other stuff we do with them) -- but now I have given up.

 

So that is what I meant.

 

All the best,

 

-Tom

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